Archives for November 2012

Off topic: Why I “dislike” cats


Sneakers (at home)

Thanksgiving dinner for six was my task last week. It turned into an adventure with our cat, Sneakers, because, well, nothing is easy with a cat. Sneaks is an old girl who lives in the dining room with her litter box beneath the table. Of course, I couldn’t have that for the special meal, so my first move was to exit her from the room, which disrupted her space and her peace. She immediately retreated to safety under the bed in the master bedroom. ‘Nuff said. Meal was great. A good time was had by all. Everyone left. Dishes were done, and peace was restored to the house.

Then, as so many adventures begin, I had this thought. The longer the cat stayed under the bed, the greater the risk to the well being of the bedroom carpet, so I decided to “shoo” her from the room. Broom in hand, I reached under the big bed, and she “fled the scene,” as they say in cop dramas. Of course, I didn’t see WHERE she went, but I didn’t think anything of it.

Until much later, when I discovered she wasn’t anywhere around the dining room table. Oh-oh. So I tore the house apart, and then I did it again, and again. After a couple of hours of looking in every nook & cranny, I realized the back door had been open. Oh crap, she went outside, I thought. That began the first of many neighborhood searches, and it was after that when I notified my wife in Virginia and wound up in the inevitable doghouse. Sneakers, where the hell are you? I opened the garage door, so she could get in, if she happened to have wandered away. I opened every closet and every room, in case she had escaped my view. I prayed she would come back, and I didn’t sleep a wink.

My Friday morning was indeed black as the cat was still AWOL. I made another couple of passes throughout the house with a flashlight. Nothing. I went door-to-door asking if anyone had seen an old gray cat with white paws. A cold front had come through, and it was really chilly, so I just knew the poor thing had died. By afternoon, I had given up and turned the page on the life of the cat. It was my fault, and I truly felt terrible, but what could I do? My stepson girlfriend came, and we looked one more time together but to no avail. She was consoling, but Sneakers was still gone.

Nightfall came, and I retreated to the bedroom to watch TV.

At 8:00pm, I went to the kitchen to get a snack and noticed what I felt was movement beneath the dining room table. Sneakers? Lo and behold, there was the danged cat, back at home on one of the chairs. The Hallelujah Chorus erupted in the soundtrack of my soul! Sneakers! Thank God you’re back!

This taught me many things, but mostly to never underestimate the ability of a cat to find a hiding place. My catastrophizing had put her in the grave, but she was merely scolding me for messing with her dwelling place.

You know, I never really have liked cats.

An open letter to creatives

My brothers and sisters, I want to leave you something today that I hope will guide you throughout your days. It is the truth about those of us enabled with the blessing and curse of creative sensitivity. Most of us simply mask it as best we can, for the others around us simply don’t – or should I say can’t – understand. To them, we are “overly” sensitive. We get our feelings hurt easily. We’re “out there” or just plain weird. We’ve never fit into their world, and believe me, they run things with their math, logic and processes.

While I’ve written of this before, I feel a strong pull to summarize my thinking today, so that you can see if it matches your own experience, because if it does, I have an important message for you.

The Lesson of the Garden Hose

Garden HoseIn Richard Adams’ wonderful little book “The Unbroken Web,” he logically explains that the source of all creativity encircles the earth and rotates around it. Sensitive people touch this plane of existence, which explains why identical ancient stories appeared on different parts of the planet before intercontinental travel. I believe this is true, which is why nobody really “owns” anything they discover while touching Life’s Unbroken Web. I recall interviewing Bill Monroe many years ago, and he explained to me that he never wrote any song. He said he “just heard them first,” which was his way of explaining his touching the Unbroken Web. Bill Monroe made a decent living, but that was not his reward.

So let’s assume this is true. If so, then we can apply the lesson of the garden hose, which is this: opening the spigot to bring fresh water into the hose is meaningless, unless the other end of the hose is open, so that it can become a conduit for spreading the water elsewhere. This is the lesson of all Life, for we humans want to keep for ourselves that which we obtain from the spigot, but we seldom get more, unless we give away what we get. This is why being in love “feels” so good. We give away love to another, and it is replaced from the source of all Love. Likewise, among those of us fortunate enough to touch the source of all Creativity, we must give away that which we find in order to touch it again, or to have it flow through us to others.

Unfortunately, this is not a life of great profit, but that has been the way of artists from the beginning. The prophets of old were the creatives of their time, and they had nothing except the surety of their flow and the absolute conviction that they would be cared for, as long as they kept their channel open. This, however, takes a form of faith in Life that few exhibit today. Nevertheless, it is our way. It really is. Culture, I believe, owes us, but that is another story for perhaps another time.

As I survey all that is fresh and new around us today, I marvel and am hopeful that one day touching the source of Life will be seen as virtuous and not as a pathway to profit. I think we’re going to have to get this right in order to do something truly meaningful with copyright, for the logicals of the world have turned the act of creation into a profit center, and this is where justice runs into conflict with Life. I do not mean to suggest that those who touch Adams’ Unbroken Web should be denied a comfortable living. God forbid! But attaching oneself to the source of Life for creative purposes is a powerful end unto itself, as only those who do so can attest.

And for me, I’d rather be there than in any mansion on earth.

Revisiting the endangered species of news anchors

One of the most insidious problems with being on television is that one tends to view what one does as defining oneself personally. Trust me, you are not what you do. Nevertheless, the illusion that we are has led many down paths that others wouldn’t even consider in their right minds.

Last night, in what has to be one of the most remarkable of the many signs of the new media times, the primary anchor team of WVII-TV resigned live on the air.

The Bangor Daily News responded with the headline: “Take this job and shove it: Fed-up Bangor TV anchors quit on air.”

“We figured if we had tendered our resignations off the air, we would not have been allowed to say goodbye to the community on the air and that was really important for us to do that,” said (Cindy) Michaels, the station’s news director, who has spent six of her 15 years in Bangor’s radio and TV market at WVII.

Both Michaels, 46, and (Tony) Consiglio, 28, said frustration over the way they were allowed or told to do their jobs — something that has been steadily mounting for the last four years — became too much for them.

“There was a constant disrespecting and belittling of staff and we both felt there was a lack of knowledge from ownership and upper management in running a newsroom to the extent that I was not allowed to structure and direct them professionally,” Michaels explained. “I couldn’t do everything I wanted to as a news director. There was a regular undoing of decisions.”

The station’s GM, Mike Palmer, responded by referencing the big and positive changes the station has made recently, adding that the on-air resignation was “unfortunate, but not unexpected.”

Folks, let me cut through the crap here for you. This is an example of two anchors frustrated with changes to the industry and at their particular station. Rather than accept changes, they decided unemployment was a better option and that this stunt was somehow justified. It was not. Firstly, you never bolt a job without a job waiting, unless it’s not your option. Secondly, you don’t end with a flurry such as this, unless you really don’t care about ever working again in the industry. The issues that are plaguing WVII-TV are no different than those plaguing any other TV station, so who’s going to hire people that disagree with those struggling to change cultures within a TV station? Moreover, these two people held management functions within the newsroom, and therefore were under the authority of the general manager, who functions as the owner’s representative. If they felt unable to continue in that capacity, then they rightly should have informed management and moved to do something else.

In October of 2003, I published an essay called “TV News Anchors, An Endangered Species” in which I laid out the hows and whys of the lesser importance of anchors in the TV News ecosystem. In 2008, I helped write “Live. Local. BROKEN News.” with AR&D, where we laid out the new role of anchors as “chief journalists” within the newsroom.

Today, I feel that the anchor is the least secure of any position in a newsroom, and that we will soon be emphasizing reporters and reporting over the ability of a nice face to curate the news on our behalf. It just makes no sense anymore in the wake of today’s foundational disruptions in not only how news is gathered, but in how it’s presented. Authenticity demands reports from the scene without a go-between, whether that filter is somebody’s fancy infrastructure or another human being. We’re in the age of participation now, and we’re not all that big on experts, which is what anchors (mostly) pretend to be.

So while I admire the courage of Cindy and Tony in bolting this way, there is sometimes a very fine line between courage and foolishness. This, I’m sorry, crosses that line and proves once again that with an unteachable spirit, everybody loses.

The Fallacy of Reach in the Network

Mark CubanMark Cuban understands broadcasting, more specifically the value proposition of one-to-many. While he has his hands in many things, his fortune came through the sale of to Yahoo in 1999. He sold the company for $5.7 billion and the rest, they say, is history. So it’s really no surprise that Mr. Cuban is miffed that Facebook wants him to pay for the privilege of spamming sending messages to the many fans of his Dallas Mavericks. He told ReadWrite’s Dan Lyons that unless Facebook changes its current form, he’s moving his fandom to another form of social media: Twitter, Tumblr or even MySpace.

“We are moving far more aggressively into Twitter and reducing any and all emphasis on Facebook,” Cuban says, via email. “We won’t abandon Facebook, we will still use it, but our priority is to add followers that our brands can reach on non-Facebook platforms first.”

Cuban and other corporate Facebook members are howling because new rules on the social network make it harder for brands to reach people without spending big money on sponsored posts.

That’s because in September Facebook changed the algorithm that controls which messages get through to which members. The result is that some brands a sharp drop off in the reach of their posts – as much as 50% in some cases.(Emphasis added)

His problem is with the word “reach,” a one-to-many marketing term that describes the size of one’s audience. It also conveniently dehumanizes that audience by turning them into numbers for the serving of oneself. This is highly problematic in the 21st Century, because our culture is now a network, not a potential audience.

The value of one-to-many is the origin of marketing, so its roots run deep in the soil of hierarchical economics. If you can make your pitch to enough people at the same time, all sorts of wonderful things can happen for you. P. T. Barnum knew this, and so does Mark Cuban. The trick, of course, is to buy your way — or manipulate your way — in front of enough people so that other economic laws can work on your behalf. As I’ve noted previously, a stage is the earliest version of this, whether that was a big rock; higher ground occupied by the toughest and meanest; or a fancy theater where elegant plays were presented. The contemporary list includes newspapers, radio and the ultimate, television.

A great many people view the Web as the latest version of one-to-many innovation, including Mr. Cuban, and this is the kind of naivete that is causing many to question his smarts (Hey Mark Cuban: Of course Facebook is charging you — what did you expect?). This belief completely misses the point of the Web, however, and leads its believers into very unstable ground in terms of creating value via the network. I’ve been writing for years that the Web can be seen as a form of one-to-many — especially in times of crisis — but at its essence, the Web is a 3-way communications tool, the first of its kind in the history of humankind. It’s a network, not a playground for one-to-many manipulation.

The idea of “audience” assumes a choice to get up and leave, but the reality is that most don’t. Another assumption is that even those who do leave can be wooed back, because while the audience has choices, they are limited. None of this is true with the Web. Choices aren’t limited. The audience can talk back. And most importantly, they can talk to each other. This is “the Great Horizontal,” as described by Jay Rosen and others.

People who only function from a one-to-many mindset disrespect these attributes when they treat fans or followers as an audience. And it’s inevitable that marketers will do so. Inevitable.

I’m a pizza fan, and one of the earliest Pizza companies to explore the Web for “customer service” was Papa John’s. I love their pizza and was a willing participant in a Monday email that offered a special. Then, it became several days a week, and now it’s daily. The problem is that marketers can’t resist the opportunity to use ANY connection to sell their wares or increase those sales. What this does is destroy the specialness of that Monday coupon and turn Papa John’s correspondence into spam.

Like millions of others, I donated $10 to the Red Cross in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. This involved a text message to a universal code (90999). In addition to my receipt, I received a separate pitch for “Red Cross news,” up to 4 messages per month. Even charities can’t resist the science that for every X amount of requests, X number will say “yes.” This may be smart business, but again, it’s exploitive, manipulative and dehumanizing.

When I agree to “follow” someone via social media, the presumption is that I wish them to engage with me, big brand or otherwise. I’m also hoping to engage with them, although I’m not naive. What I’m not doing is signing up for spam. The problem is that when this social engagement is granted, the one receiving this permission (e.g. “the brand”) can’t resist the broadcast axiom that power belongs to the one with the reach. “Once you agree to follow me,” this approach reasons, “I can send you whatever and how much ever I wish.” This then moves the brand’s messages into the category of spam.

Is there a form of “reach” at play in the network? Probably yes, but it’s certainly different than old school one-to-many. How should a brand like The Dallas Mavericks use social media for business purposes? I think we’re still writing the book on this one, but you’re safe actually engaging with people rather than throwing things at them.

Look, Mark Cuban is a good guy, and the Mavericks are my favorite pro sports team. He’s used social media to give tickets away, which is great, but it’s really no different than a radio promotion. If you want to use the Web that way, you know what? You should pay for it.

An open letter to certain Facebook “Christians”

Christianity is changingThe President has been re-elected, and it’s time to put aside your good intentions and inspect your behavior of late. May I?

You and those who lead you have spent the last year in vile character assassinations (a form of murder, but who knew?) in an attempt to convince me (and other “friends”) of the righteousness of your worldview. To those of us who’ve had to endure this bombardment, the relentless hostility of the cartoons, clever images and commentary came off as a haughty justification of your superiority by painting your political enemy as something less than human. This is called “demonizing,” something that your spiritual taproot probably condemns.

I cannot count the number of times I came across the theme “I’m a Christian; I’m voting for Romney,” spoken with certainty, as if a vote for “that other man” was a vote for evil personified. I’m serious. It was that bad. And this thought did not originate with you; you were simply parroting what others inside your bubble were saying. What is it about politics that turns a certain group of Christians into ignorant, raving maniacs?

If your God needs you to participate in the process in this manner then, I’m sorry, but you need a bigger God!

The latest report from the PEW Forum on Religion & Public Life a few weeks ago has many loud messages for those who have ears to hear. Here are three specific findings.

  • The numbers of people who say they are unaffiliated with any religion jumped to almost one in five (19.6%), and those are more likely younger adults.
  • Protestantism fell below the 50% threshold for the first time. Just 48% of Americans call themselves Protestants today, down 5% in just one year. This Protestant decline goes back many years, which leads us to the third finding.
  • When the unaffiliateds were asked for their views about religious institutions, 70% said such institutions are too interested in money and power; focus too much on rules; and are too involved in politics.

So let’s summarize: Protestant Christianity is not only in a significant decline, but it’s pushing its future out the door by an overemphasis on money, power, rules and politics.

The problem, according to Pew, is that the flock sees through these behaviors and is pulling away, and as Stephen Covey once wrote, “You can’t talk your way out of something you behaved your way into.”

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.

Because I used to live inside this bubble myself, I know the automatic retort — that an increasingly immoral culture is trying to pull you into the gutter with it, and that voting in “righteous” representatives is your duty as citizens. Let me repeat, you need a bigger God. When in history has “the culture” not tried to pull you into the abyss? No, it’s not the culture; it’s your reaction.

It’s my prayer that over the next four years, you’ll begin the important journey of reading the work of those outside your bubble, because the reflection from inside your dwelling place has blinded you, or at least colored your view of truth. I’m as Bible-aware as any of you, but I’ve matured over the years and am now influenced by many other people, views and philosophies. The view from here is much more inclusive but not any easier, and I don’t find any evidence either of a world that’s conveniently just black or white. If it were so, life would be so much simpler. The gray confounds, but that’s where you’ll find God’s spirit most at work.

In the postmodern era about which I write (which some call “postChristian”), the days of automatic, lock-step, Caucasian hierarchical acceptance are on the wane. God in the postmodern world is a participatory god, God, the Holy Spirit, and He is not concerned with a specific “type” of human being only.

If history is any judge, it’s very likely there will be revivals of religion in the 21st Century. Don’t count on them to look like those from the past, however, because the past has, well, passed.

And let’s all consider the old admonition, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Election night’s message on hierarchies

Top DownNews today that big money Republican “donors” squandered most of their money is another sign of the weakening of hierarchies in a world that is increasingly horizontal. The GOP apparently can’t see this, which is one of the most telling lessons from election day 2012. Mike Flynn at Breitbart writes Rarely has so much been spent to so little effect:

Outside SuperPACs lost virtually every race they targeted, despite outspending the Democrats by wide margins in some cases. This election was an epic failure of DC’s consultant class.

“DC’s consultant class” is a product of our hierarchies. The election was an epic failure all right, an epic failure of the idea that you can influence culture from the top down, if only you have enough money.

NBC’s Open Channel documents the dollars and the billionaires who lost them in an excellent accounting by The Center for Public Integrity.

Money can’t buy happiness, nor can it buy an election, apparently.

The top donors to super PACs in 2012 did not fare well — casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the No. 1 super PAC contributor with more than $53 million in giving, backed eight losers at this writing.

Adelson was top backer of the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future super PAC, with $20 million in donations. Romney lost to President Barack Obama. In addition, Adelson’s contributions to super PACs backing U.S. Senate candidates in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey were also for naught.

He was not the only conservative billionaire who had a bad night.

The shift to the horizontal in the West is something that will impact everyone sooner or later. Media companies count on the premise of buying influence; it’s the core of its value proposition, the purpose of the stage. Those who believe this will always be the way are blind to the disruptive nature of the horizontal, which, at least in part, explains events like Karl Rove’s on air, election night insistence that the numbers had to be wrong.

Or Mitt Romney being “shellshocked” by his loss.

Top-down isn’t going away completely, but it’s also not going to ever again be the reliable friend of the haves — especially not of those who have a lot.

It’s not surprising that President Obama used Twitter to notify his followers of his victory.